Composting Food Scraps in Your Community: A Social Marketing Toolkit
On this page:
- About the "Composting Food Scraps in Your Community: A Social Marketing Toolkit"
- Why Composting Food Scraps Is Important
- Who Should Use this Toolkit
- What Social Marketing Is and How it Can Be Used to Encourage Behavior Change
- About the Campaign and Materials
- Additional Resources
- How to Download the Customizable Campaign Materials
The “Composting Food Scraps in Your Community: A Social Marketing Toolkit” is a resource for states, territories, local governments, Tribes, and nongovernmental organizations who wish to create composting campaigns in their communities. More specifically, it is for an organization that wants to (1) launch a new food scrap composting program, (2) increase participation in an existing food scrap composting program, or (3) reduce contamination in their compost collection stream. It is designed to assist agencies that offer curbside collection or drop-off locations for residential food scraps. The toolkit includes a planning process that uses social marketing principles to ensure campaigns are tailored to their local communities' needs.
The toolkit walks you through the steps to design a behavior change campaign in your community. It will help you move beyond an education/awareness campaign by identifying barriers people may experience in composting food scraps and highlights motivators that help overcome those barriers. It is accompanied by composting campaign materials created by municipalities and organizations that are available for use and customization by any community.
EPA estimates that in 2018 in the United States, more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other single material in our everyday trash (24 percent of the amount landfilled and 22 percent of the amount combusted with energy recovery). Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2010, 31 percent or 133 billion pounds of the 430 billion pounds of food available at the retail and consumer levels was not eaten. In 2019 alone, EPA estimates that 66.2 million tons of wasted food were generated in the food retail, food service, and residential sectors. At the individual level, that is 164 pounds of food wasted per person each year in households - only about four percent is composted.
When we reduce wasted food, we reap social, environmental, and economic benefits. While preventing food from being wasted is the highest priority, a certain amount of food scraps is unavoidable. Even when all actions are taken to ensure food is used for its intended use, to feed people, inedible parts will remain and can be turned into compost. Composting is a controlled, aerobic (oxygen-required) process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or mulch through natural decomposition. It is one way to recycle a wide variety of organic materials and divert those materials away from landfills and incinerators. When we add finished compost to compacted or depleted soils, the compost improves the health of the soil. Compost also improves the soil’s ability to retain water, which may assist if the area is prone to flooding or experiences bursts of excessive rainfall. Importantly, compost sequesters carbon in the soil and helps absorb greenhouse gas emissions.
States, territories, local governments, Tribes, and NGOs can help encourage community members to take the necessary steps to separate out their food scraps and participate in successful composting programs. Composting food scraps can assist communities in meeting their climate action goals by reducing the amount of material communities send to landfills.
Who Should Use this Social Marketing Toolkit
This toolkit is designed for use by states, territories, local governments, Tribes, and NGOs. The goal of the toolkit is to provide communities with a framework for planning and implementing effective wasted food prevention campaigns as well as customizable campaign materials.
If you’d like more detailed information about the social marketing planning process to help you plan your campaign, you can access EPA’s online social marketing training modules. If you have any questions about this toolkit, contact SMMFood@epa.gov.
One challenge is that community members may not be aware of the issue of food waste, and they may not understand how composting their food scraps and changing their personal behavior can make a difference. Social marketing is a discipline that seeks to change behaviors for the good of society, communities, and people. To create meaningful, sustainable behavior change, social marketing uses research-informed strategies to overcome the barriers that are preventing specific behaviors by providing people with personal, relevant motivators to act. It identifies benefits to the audience of changing their behaviors, and the motivators that are most likely to overcome barriers and spur change.
This toolkit intends to move your community from awareness of the issue of composting toward action on the issue by giving community members concrete steps they can take to participate in composting behaviors such as separating their food scraps for pick up, taking them to drop off locations, or keeping contamination out of the compost stream. The graphic below illustrates the behavior change continuum.
On this continuum, awareness is a necessary first step before behavior changes should be addressed. If people are not aware of an issue, they are unlikely to engage with specific behavior change messages. Once they are aware and have a level of understanding, then we need to create personal relevance by helping them learn that they have potential to reduce the environmental impact of their food waste by composting it. After this understanding is established, specific behavior changes (differentiation) can be promoted. The campaigns can help spur initial behavior change where the audience tries behaviors for the first time. Hopefully, that person has a good experience (satisfaction), leading them to form a habit. Eventually, as more people practice composting behaviors, the campaigns can build loyalty and trust with audiences acting as advocates for the behaviors and influencing each other to create social norms.
The following agencies have generously granted permission for their campaign materials to be used and customized by any state, territory, local government, Tribe, and NGO, and have granted permission to EPA to facilitate access to these materials. Thanks to:
- King County Solid Waste Division (Washington).
- City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (Oregon).
- Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
- Metro Vancouver Regional District (British Columbia, Canada).
EPA is providing these campaign materials to support states, territories, local governments, Tribes, and NGOs who are committed to educating the public and driving behavior change to encourage composting of food scraps. Mention of or referral to commercial products or services and/or links to non-EPA sites does not imply official EPA endorsement of or responsibility for the opinions, ideas, data, or products presented at those locations or guarantee the validity of the information provided.
If you’re planning to use campaign materials in this toolkit, here are some guidelines to follow:
- While four agencies have provided a set of campaign materials for use by partners across the U.S., we recommend that you choose one campaign to implement in your community. This way your campaign will be more consistent and cohesive across communication channels.
- The toolkit provides native design files for all materials, so they can be customized by partners. We encourage customization of the materials to include your logo, branding, and link to your website; however, we highly recommend keeping the messages and overall concepts intact. If you use Metro Vancouver's materials, please provide attribution to Metro Vancouver on your website, posters, or where space allows.
- Materials provided cannot be used for commercial purposes.
About the Campaigns
King County Solid Waste Division: Compost Right
King County’s Compost Right campaign encourages residents to avoid plastic contamination by putting only food scraps - and not food packaging - in their compost bins. The campaign encourages King County residents to continue to help both the environment and the economy by composting their food scraps and yard waste. The campaign drives home the messages that as important as it is to compost, it's more important to compost right and eliminate the contamination of plastics and nonorganic material in the final product used in lawns and gardens. No matter if it's scraps or ends, moldy or rotten, food can always be composted. Campaign materials are available in multiple languages. To find out more, visit King County’s composting website, or contact Kelsey Bailey, Organics Circular Economy Program Manager at email@example.com.
City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability: Include the Food
Portland’s composting campaign launched in 2011 when they expanded to include food waste in their composting program. Instead of separating out food scraps and yard waste, these materials encourage residents to include food scraps in their green bins. Materials in this campaign include postcards, stickers, and web banners. To find out more, visit Portland’s composting website, or contact Lindsey Maser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation: Let’s Scrap Food Waste
Vermont state law bans food scraps from the trash. This does not mean that all Vermonters must compost food scraps themselves, but they need to either bring the food scraps to a transfer station or drop-off location, or have a hauler bring them to a composter or an anaerobic digester. The focus of this campaign is to create awareness of the landfill ban, communicate why it is important to keep food scraps out of the landfill, and share simple tips on how to reduce wasted food. Materials in this campaign include food art as well as static and animated social media ads. To learn more, go to Vermont’s Let’s Scrap Food Waste website.
Metro Vancouver Regional District: Food Scraps Aren't Garbage
The “Food Scraps Aren’t Garbage” campaign launched in 2014 to build awareness of Metro Vancouver’s Organics Disposal Ban and help residents use their green bins. The creative platform, featuring a cast of goggle-eyed food scrap characters, is fun and memorable. It is a flexible platform that can be used to build awareness and communicate specific messages, such as reducing contamination, connecting using the green bin and climate change, or building social norms. The campaign shows only food scraps, not any avoidable food waste. The campaign has been effective in Metro Vancouver: 88 percent of residents now say they always or often use their green bin.
Materials include social media, posters, transit shelter ads, digital banner ads, infographics, and videos. If you are using this campaign, please include the following attribution statement at least once in your communications materials, such as on a website or poster: “Concept and creative courtesy of Metro Vancouver.”
To learn more, go to Metro Vancouver’s Food Scraps Aren’t Garbage website.
The following resources can be used to inspire or supplement your composting campaign. Please read the descriptions carefully (not all resources are customizable), and visit each website for more details.
- Hennepin County, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota created an Organics Recycling Media Kit. The kit includes: a sample newsletter article to share on your organization’s website or newsletter, sample social media posts to share through your channels, an organic materials recycling guide, and instructions on how to engage with Hennepin County on their social media channels to follow and reshare their messages and content. Read more about their composting campaign on their website, or contact Alisa Reckinger, Communications and Outreach Specialist at email@example.com.
- San Francisco, California
San Francisco is offering a Sign Maker tool that communities can use to create a sign that includes pictures of what types of materials are allowed in their compost stream. To use the sign maker tool in your community, please send an email to their web lead, Stephen.Wilson@sfgov.org requesting access to the backend code; you will be asked to sign a memorandum of understanding with their agency.
- Austin, Texas: Composting Public Service Announcement Videos.
- Institute for Local Self-Reliance: The Composting for Community website includes infographics and educational materials on the benefits of setting up a compost program in your community.
- New York City: Curbside, At-Home, and Drop-Off Compost Guides.
- New York State Pollution Prevention Institute: Guide to Contamination in Food Scrap Bins.
- US Composting Council: The Target Organics Hub is a resource to help build food scrap composting infrastructure and implement programs across the United States. Communities can use this hub to plan, attract, open, successfully run compost facilities, and market the compost that is produced.
Fill out the form below to access a link to the customizable campaign materials from King County, the City of Portland, the state of Vermont, and Metro Vancouver Regional District.